Tag Archives: barbados

Black airmen, then and now

21 Nov

Ebenezer Ray's grandson Lamman Rucker, "Black Angels Over Tuskegee" Photo: MarkGlennStudio.com

In the middle of this column, under the heading “The Goodwill Flight “Ebenezer  talks about a goodwill flight to the Caribbean and South America that was undertaken by Dr. Albert Forsythe and C. Alfred Anderson. They were dubbed the “first transcontinental Negro flyers.”

New York Times obituary on Forsythe in 1986, said: “In 1933, Dr. Forsythe and C. Alfred Anderson became the first black pilots to complete a cross-country flight, traveling from Bader Field in Atlantic City, N.J., to Los Angeles. The flight, along with trips to Montreal and the Caribbean in 1934, was made in an attempt to break down the color barrier in aviation.”

An obituary of Anderson, who died in 1996, recalled: “He and Forsythe made the first land plane flight from Miami to Nassau in 1934. They island hopped throughout the Caribbean, to the Northeastern tip of South America. They overflew the Venezuelan straits and landed in Trinidad as national heroes.” It described Anderson as a mentor to Tuskegee Airmen.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt with C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson, a pioneer black aviator and respected instructor at Tuskegee Institute. (U.S. Air Force photo)

I also found a 1933 Time magazine story about their trip.

The itinerary did not include a visit to Barbados, which was a disappointment to those, including my father,  with connections to the island.  The column and the letter make it sound like the pilots were black Americans, but according to his obituary, Forsythe was born in the Bahamas. Perhaps there was a little bit of Caribbean rivalry.

The connections here are a little uncanny. Lamman Rucker, Ebenezer’s grandson, is co-producer of  Black Angels Over Tuskegee, a play about the Tuskegee Airmen. Lamman, who plays Elijah in the production,  is a founding member of the company, The Black Gents of Hollywood, an all-male ensemble devoted to redefining the images of African American men in entertainment.

The cast of "Black Angels Over Tuskegee"

In a few weeks I’ll be headed for Barbados, my father’s birthplace. I’ve been there only once, back in 1984 and only for a couple of days. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with the place, perhaps beginning the journey of finding family. It is interesting that while in his thirties, my father’s emotional connection to the island still seemed very strong. My impression was that later in his life, by the time he was married and living in Pittsburgh, that connection seemed to be lost, or at least frayed.
I can’t tell whether “The little Englander” my dad  quotes is him or someone else. (Editor’s update 8/3/11: It’s possible it is his brother, Noel, who worked at the Barbados Advocate.) Perhaps I can find the archives of the Barbados Advocate while I am there.

The New York Age, January 12, 1935

Marking a decade in America

26 Jun

According to Ellis Island records, my father arrived in the United States on November 1, 1923 from Hamilton Bermuda. He was 26 years old and single. A column that he published on December 16, 1933, notes that he worked for the Bermuda Colonist and Gazette, a daily newspaper, during his six-month stay there. He notes in this column that he had worked for the Age for eight years. Wonder what he did the first two.


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The New York Age, November 11, 1933

The lesser of ‘two evils’

21 Jun

Presented with the choice of trusting their fate to the British or the architects of America’s Jim Crow South, at least one Caribbean chooses the former for those he left behind in Barbados. Funny, my mother always portrayed my dad as being a staunchly proud  naturalized American. I took that to mean he was uncritical. Not so, apparently.

The New York Age, October 14, 1933

The divorce question

3 Jun

So, I know my mother was not my father’s first wife and that he divorced one Lucille Ray in the mid 1940s. This column makes me curious as to why he was so interested in “the divorce question” in Barbados a decade after he had  arrived in New York.

The New York Age, March 25, 1933

The New York Age, March 25, 1933

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